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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Closing the Achievement Gap - -DoE discussion Series

DoE is hosting a discussion series titled “Closing the Achievement Gap Series” with various prominent educators and policy makers. The last night’s session, Ensuring Equality for All of Our Student, was a “conversation with Chancellor Joel Klein and Reverend Al Sharpton” moderated by Dominic Carter of NY1.

Howard Dodson, Chief of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Cutlure, the event sponsor, made a passionate plea for an urgent action calling the current educational state of affairs the direst of all crises.

Asked what the biggest contributing factor to the achievement gap was, Klein’s answer was to empower and engage families. Yep. You read that right. Empower and engage families. Evidently, he has not noticed the hundreds of parents who have been sacrificing their precious time to make their voices heard, only to have their efforts entirely ignored.

He went on to list two more factors: the low expectations placed on disadvantaged students and unequal allocation of resources, both financial and human. Sharpton’s replies (which came before Klein’s) were pretty similar – special interests , underlying inequalities, and lack of familial involvement.

On the latter two points, Sharpton went on to say we needed to change the “culture of kids” by involving the community beyond the school. There is too much glorifying of “being nothing” and too much defeatist attitude. He talked about his college experience where an African American man told him if he could write and read, then he was trying to be a white man. But the only way to change that is by involving everyone – not just teachers, administrators, parents, but kids themselves and the community at large. He further suggested parental involvement should be tailored to each community.

Klein offered his thoughts on how to close the achievement gap. He proposed longer school days and school year. He wants schools to start at an earlier age. He suggested bringing in the community. He wants to offer families more choices. He talked about how choice will lead to competition which will improve the system. Especially now with the funding tied to students, he believes that schools that can attract more students will excel but the competition will also drive low performing schools to do better. He also mentioned the word, accountability, several times and said that Mayoral control provides accountability because the Mayor can be voted out.

It was painfully clear that Klein has never spent a day in a classroom. While I am not opposed to longer school days or school year, I cannot in good conscience ask even the most veteran teacher to teach until 5PM or well into July (not to mention do both) with so many students in a cramped classroom with so few resources and so many constraints. If Klein had any first-hand experience with a real classroom, he may have thought twice about making this suggestion.

It is ironic that some schools in District 2 had to eliminate pre-K classes to accommodate ever increasing kindergarten enrollment, while he preaches the importance of early childhood education.

As for his comments on bringing in community, judging from the way he has treated parents willing to work with the DoE on various issues, I can only presume he means businesses and consultants when he says bring in the community. He has certainly brought in many consultants to do the job that used to be done by DoE employees. And, remember Caroline Kennedy who was hired to specifically to reach out to and bring in resources from the private sector (i.e., businesses)?

Klein also firmly believes that running the system on a business model of competition will improve our schools. He talked about giving families choice several times during the night, even while Sharpton cautioned that limitation and narrowness of choices will make the system too competitive. Klein does not seem to understand that when you have a competition, someone always loses. Why not base our system on collaboration? Collaborate with stakeholders – parents, guardians, community based organizations, education experts, policy makers. Foster collaboration among schools and replicate successes. Competition is inherently the wrong model for education where we want to lift everyone up.

Naturally of all the times he mentioned accountability, he was not talking about himself or the Mayor. True, the Mayor can be voted out, but the election happens only every four years and there are many voters who do not vote based on the Mayor’s performance on education. I wondered why the Chancellor couldn’t be elected or booted out every two years. After all, Chancellor can do whatever he wants so long as the Mayor approves it, but he can blame the Mayor if anything goes wrong. That’s not accountability.

As an example of how his strategy has worked, Klein mentioned how an all-African-American boys school in Bedford Stuyvesant was able to have 100% of its students reading at grade level. Marcia Lyles, his own Deputy in Division of Teaching and Learning, later set the record straight by saying that the school is a charter school – hardly a good example of how his policy works.

The cluelessness of Klein became apparent when an audience member made a plea to re-evaluate our pedagogical model and foster creative learning. She very eloquently explained how children learn best in a creative environment. His response was that first and foremost children needed to know how to read and write. He missed the whole point of her comment. Dodson, Sharpton and most of the audience understood what she was asking for (to be fair there seemed to be many educators in the audience, including a NYS regent), yet, Klein, the man in charge of educating our children, was clueless as to the significance of her comment.

Some education experts have said that the Chancellor need not be an educator. Perhaps that is true. However, I expect the Chancellor to at least understand how children learn and what it is like to teach in our schools. So, I left the lecture hall feeling we had a longer way to go to close the achievement gap than I thought.


ceolaf said...

The problem here is that Klein and his ilk don't want to responsible to -- accountable to -- parents or families.

They want principals and/or teachers to be accountable to parents and families. But not themselves.

You see, their accountability and governance model is all about how greater accountability by school-level people will magically make schools better. But there's no mechanism for how this happens, and no responsibility for the central offices to ensure that school level people have what they need to do better, because as long as the central office is creating the Accountability framework it is doing its job.

Patrick J. Sullivan said...

It is the time of year when the chancellor and mayor offer themselves as great civil rights crusaders. But in many cases their policies have served to further segregate our schools or put low income students at a disadvantage. The awful change to gifted and talented admissions has dramatically reduced enrollment of low income students in those programs and resulted in closing of many, District 1's attempt to maintain diversity in elementary schools is being dismantled, high performing schools are told to bar out of zone kids, our most at-need kids are being held back based on standardized tests but without receiving the services they need and the absence of accountability for school safety agents has produced a long string of documented abuses.

It's not enough for Klein and Bloomberg to say they want to close the gap.

Anonymous said...

What exactly are you expecting? Do you want to go back to community boards, when local patronage and the local political machines made self-interested decisions that were not as transparent as this chancellor's?

Patrick Sullivan said...


It's easy to tell when pr hacks sent by administration or Geoff Canada drop by. The comments, like yours, are completely out of context and typically reflect the false dichotomies the mayor likes. It's not a choice between the old system and the "martial law" (to quote Councilmember John Liu) we have now. Actually, by refusing to even consider any improvements to the current governance structure, the mayor only increases the likelihood of the current law terminating without renewal.

In response to your point, there is no transparency to the Chancellor's decisions. And all decisions are made in the self interest of two men.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous- Where was the transparency in any of the decisions regarding testing for the "Gifted and Talented"?

Where was the transparency regarding the very vital (overlooked) decision making regarding the new registration procedures for Pre-K
(2008)? They still haven't cleaned up that mess.

And, now parents are being informed about a new, two level, application process for Kindergarten 2009? Can anyone help me with this? It is not so transparent.

AOD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Patrick Sullivan said...


I see your profile is hidden. It would be nice, for once, for an administration supporter to actually come out in the open. What is your name? Where is your school?

Fair student funding has been good to some schools and not to others. It is great that your school benefits. When the methodology was presented at the Panel for Educational Policy (Board of Ed) where I represent Manhattan, I asked why most East and Central Harlem schools were orginally slated for budget cuts and blocked from receiving NY State Contracts for Excellence funding. I met one on one with the developer of FSF, Robert Gordon who could only tell me "I don't know". So much for transparency. Sure the budgets are online for all to see but that has been true for some time.

If we're talking about transparency, then where are the completed RAND studies of 5th grade test-based retention? Why are they suppressed? Wouldn't you like to know what principals said did/didn't work about the policy?

Or why did class sizes increase in most schools that received state funding to reduce class sizes? The State Education Department has asked that question and not gotten an answer.

Or why do so many special ed students not get the services they are required. The State Comptroller asked that question in an audit.

As for my agenda you can come see me advocate for it every month at the PEP meetings: smaller class sizes, the rights of CECs to have a say in charter school siting, safeguards on military recruiting, less test prep, G&T admissions that are not biased against low income students, capital and operating budgets that reflect need instead of what the mayor deems appropriate, greater transparency into budget decisions, reduction in the Office of Accountability and Press Office, regulations for school leadership teams that acknowledge the powers granted to parents and teachers under state law...

Why don't you come to the next PEP meeting and defend the administration during the public comment session? Nobody ever does. I'm sure the Chancellor would appreciate the support and I would welcome another point of view.


Leonie Haimson said...

AOD -- you may say that "Everything we do is transparent, you can see all of our information online now from the lunch menu to the budget" . Actually, as City Comptroller Thompson and George Sweeting of the Independent Budget Office have both pointed out, the school-based expenditure reports, begun under Chancellor Crew have not been available for the last several years.

Thompson has said that budgeting practices are markedly "less transparent" under this administration, and Sweeting that it harder than ever to get a meeting w/ OMB and DOE officials so that they can get their hands on accurate information as to spending.

AOD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AOD said...

You didn't comment on the first part of my posting. I think its wonderful that 1000 students, many ELL's and immigrants, are doing well because of FSF. Doesn't anyone on this blog celebrate the good things that are happening? I can tell you that none of our 1000 + parents are represented on this blog but they are very pleased with their children's education and I can say the same for many other schools I know. Im not Thompson but just in case you wanted to hear another perspective.

Patrick Sullivan said...

Let me see if I have it all straight Ms. O'Dowd.

You came to the PEP to help Jim Liebman extol the virtues of the ARIS system. While neither of you were on the agenda, when we ran short of time the Chancellor told the parents of children receiving special education classes they would have to come back another day.

You profess to be quite busy yet you found the time to talk to the Daily News about the secrets to the success of your school including this gem: "We teach them the tricks and the tips of test-taking".

Then you come here, where parents express their viewpoint without the benefit of a 12 DOE person public relations office or multi-million dollar ad campaigns funded by the Fund for Public School or Geoffrey Canada's multi-million dollar professional PR effort. Yet you accuse us of being idlers who "sit and spin words".

You tell me my arguments are "wrong" but you don't say how, just that I'm harsh and a pessimist.

It's really quite simple Ms. O'Dowd. I raise issues, grounded in fact, that parents tell me are their priorities. And every day parents, teachers, a surprising number of administrators and even people who work in Tweed tell me that I'm saying exactly the right things.

Shino said...

Ms. O'Dowd
I am actually heartened to hear that this administration has been beneficial to some students. I guess some of Mr. Klein's policies did work for a small subset of the population.

However, the bigger issue is that his policies seem to have failed to improve education for a large majority of our children. We cannot evaluate the system based on a small subset of successful schools. We need to take a comprehensive and holistic look at how his policies have affected the system as a whole.

I do hope you are sharing your success with other principals in your network. I think it is important that we build an education system that values collaboration, and not competition.

I would love to communicate some of your parents -- I have not come across any parents who are satisfied with how things are currently going and it would be very interesting to hear their view points.

As a working parent, I don't really have the time to sit and write blogs or attend meetings (especially those evening meetings), but this is too important for the future of our city, I make the time.


AOD said...

I guess I brought out the best in you...resorting to an article that celebrates quality teaching and trying to spin a couple of words to make it sound like we focus on test prep is wrong...another blogger, reported on the same article and quoted it as it was intended. See below

[Principal Angela O'Dowd, who is credited with much of the school's success, said that the high scores were not simply the result of "teaching how to take tests." O'Dowd also pointed to teacher quality being essential, noting that "[t]eachers design their own curricula at the 'empowerment' school." O'Dowd explained, "I tell teachers to trust themselves. ... I feel like teaching and learning takes place in the classroom. The test scores take care of themselves."]

There's really no need to try to discredit our work at school, I'm really just adding another voice to your blog, you don't just want it to be a soapbox do you? As we all know listening (and reading) objectively is an important component in trying to actually solve the problems in our schools. We can't just keep raising issues and feeding off of people's complaints. Build on the positive. I believe everyone's intent, especially the chancellor, is for all our children to be successful.

Patrick Sullivan said...


I have no intention of discrediting the work of your school. I was simply showing that despite your assurances that you are too busy, you seem to find time to represent the administration. On the contrary, I suspect you're an excellent principal. I recall you had developed your own assessments rather than use the dreadful McGraw Hill ones. I'd much rather hear about that than the ARIS database.

We do welcome other views here and you've been a great sport to come spar with us. The Chancellors men don't ever come out to engage anyone. They always need the floor all to themselves.

I will say you have not convinced me to feel differently about the points Shino or I made.


AOD said...

The blog doesn't generate many comments does it? I'm not surprised when any comment that doesn't criticize 'the administration'is answered as mine was. No wonder people remain anonymous - even some of your writers are anonymous. Your hyperlinks are all back to your own posts or people connected with your blog- a little biased I think! Don't you guys get tired just commenting to each other? Ever think of starting over with a mission statement to attract a more diverse group of parents who can find some practical solutions to their problems as well as vent. Look at Obama's website for inspiration :)

Patrick Sullivan said...


We're quite happy with our readership, thank you. Many of our posts include information not easily available due to the lack of transparency on the part of the Chancellor. For example, the budget cut information I posted from the last PEP meeting is being widely read. I will post more soon.

Also, we link to news stories of interest to parents like parent Marie Pollicino's big win in getting the Chancellor's Reg on SLTs reversed. We have the actual decision here.

We even figured out how to find a news story that had been removed after it was published online by the Daily News. It contained an admission by a DOE spokesman that only 2 of the Chancellor's top 20 leaders were lifelong educators. I can see why they wanted that censored. But we've got it here.

Again, if you'd like to debate matters of policy I'm happy to oblige but I don't think you are representing yourself, your school or your employer very well by coming here to attack our efforts to share our viewpoint.

Oh, and we have links to ELA results, stories about cheating on them and how many experts are saying kids are being excessively coached for them. Right now this information is drawing the post visitors.


AOD said...

Im sorry if you think Im attacking your viewpoint. You sit on the PEP and I thought it was appropriate as an educator to challenge what you are saying on a public blog thats titled NYC Parents and offer some suggestions? Anyway, this will be it now that you have helped me understand the kind of information that you report. Our parents are interested in very different issues.

Patrick Sullivan said...


Actually, you've offered little refutation of my viewpoint but criticized my decision to focus on these issues in the manner I do. There's little in my comments here or at the PEP that is my invention. I don't purport to speak for all Manhattan parents but bring the viewpoint of those to offer one, especially the Manhattan CECs, to challenge the misguided policy prescriptions of the administration. It's a bottom up approach. But as someone who presumes that the 1000+ parents in your school are not interested in these issues, I doubt you can grasp that concept.


Mynd Ghames said...

This sort of isolated, insulated conversation where two people with divergent views speak past each other and try to one up one another is one part of the reason education fails to move forward. Too many egos, too many posturers and far too few people who care only for the task of delivering education as a service.

Were the rewards for successful teaching to parallel those of successful shopkeeping, parents, teachers, administrators and students alike would benefit. Alas, as in any protected and protectionist industry (I briefly considered the term profession, but the output of schools is measured and treated for more like factory output than artwork or life's work) the existing interests want to protect what they have, the idealists are too busy polishing their halos and giving speeches (or raising money - if you are GC) and the pragmatic (some chose to label these cynical) turn away in disgust and go find something that actual rewards talent and where effort and ingenuity are valued, preserved and not trampled in the rush to publish or be profiled.

Patrick Sullivan said...


Those of us whose children are in the public school system can't afford to take an academic point of view. Overcrowding classrooms, endless standardized testing and an arrogant administration won't be wished away but must be addressed.


inexile said...

Actually, I'd like to thank Patrick for not backing down and continuing to push for substantive dialogue with AOD; not just a bunch of edspeak with nothing to back it up.

Shino said...

If Patrick has any "existing interest" he is trying to protect, it would be provision of sound education for all children. I don't know why else he puts so much time and energy into moving the collective agenda of parents forward. That's not to say there aren't parents out there with different views, but I know Patrick represents many parents I know personally.

He's down in the trenches -- not an ivory tower speculator.

Anonymous said...

Demographics of AOD's school:

63% Asian
26% Hispanic
7% Black
2% White

Do these numbers have an impact on one's view? Do some principals do a bit of apple polishing to make brownie points with Joel Klein?